A man casts his vote during Kurds independence referendum in Halabja, Iraq September 25, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
One might think that as a people struggling for statehood and demanding recognition of their own right to self-determination, Palestinians would have backed the Kurds as they held their historic referendum on statehood Monday.
Indeed, the veteran Palestinian journalist and columnist for The Jordan Times, Daoud Kuttab, expressed this sentiment in an interview from Amman with The Jerusalem Post.
“The referendum is a very risky move. But as a concept, the right of a people to have the right to self-determination is something we as Palestinians have been fighting for, and we certainly can’t oppose it for anyone else,” he said on Monday.
“I, as a Palestinian, think they have the right to determine their future. How they want to exercise that right is something they should think long and hard about in a world that is so interconnected,” he continued. “Whether they exercise that right within the existing government of Iraq or as a separate country, they have to decide.
But I favor the Kurds in Iraq being able to express their right to self-determination through a referendum.”
Kuttab added that there were differences between the Kurdish and Palestinian cases.
“The Iraqi government is not occupying Kurdish areas and settling foreigners in the country the way the Israelis are,” he explained. “There are differences, but still there is a need for us to understand the ethos of people wanting their right to self-determination permitted.”
Despite Kuttab’s views, the Palestinian leadership and much of the political elite opposed the referendum in keeping with the position of the Arab League and because Israel is the main backer of Kurdish independence.
A Palestinian delegation was part of an Arab League consensus that, at Iraq’s request on September 13, rejected a referendum “because of its illegality and opposition to the Iraqi constitution,” media reports quoted Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Jamal as saying. Jamal added that the Arab League decision cited the unity of Iraq as a “main part of security and stability in the region.”
PLO executive committee member Wasel Abu Yusuf, in remarks to the Post, said the leadership was against the referendum.
“The important thing is affirming the unity of Iraq,” he said. “There can’t be divisions.
It can’t be that there are divisions of Iraq, Syria and other countries. All peoples that demand self-determination should get it, but on the basis of unity, not division. There should be freedom, but within the framework of unity.”
Abdullah Abdullah, a legislator and supporter of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said: “We are part of the Arab League and we recognize the State of Iraq, which is a country for all its citizens, including the Kurds. It’s not easy for us to take a different stand.”
And it is not just the Arab League. Backing the referendum would have gone against a virtual international consensus, with the US, Russia, the EU, China and the UN all coming out against the Kurdish move.
The fact that Israel supported the referendum was also a decisive factor in the Palestinians’ opposition.
“The Kurds are a nation, same as Arabs, French and English,” said Hasan Khreisheh, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council. “But this referendum is not an innocent step. The only country behind them is Israel. Once Israel is behind them, then from my point of view, we have to be careful.”
Khreisheh noted the presence of Israeli flags at gatherings in the run-up to the referendum.
“They want to put another Israel in the heart of Arab countries, Muslim countries,” he said.
Ghassan Khatib, a former PA minister and current vice president of Bir Zeit University, said the “exaggerated propaganda” of photos showing Israeli flags and statements of Kurdish-Israeli friendship turned some Palestinians against the referendum.
“I think Palestinians are confused,” he said. “There is a certain sympathy with the call [for independence], but also some suspicion and reservation because of the propaganda linking this referendum with Israel.”
Kuttab, The Jordan Times columnist, termed the Israeli stance on Kurdish independence “very hypocritical.”
“They want the Kurds to have an independent state but are not allowing the Palestinians to have an independent state,” he said.